NBA Lockout: Top 16 Reasons Why the Fans Need a 2011-12 Season
The 2010-11 NBA season was possibly the most entertaining year since Bird and Magic were dominating The Association. The league just had its highest-rated season in history, and gained more fans than ever.
With the NFL lockout seemingly at an end, all eyes will be on the NBA, the player, and the owners to get a deal done. They need to end this lockout, and we the fans need it even more.
Here are the top reasons why.
Derrick Williams’ Rookie Season
Why there is any doubt about how this kid’s game would translate to the NBA level is mind-boggling.
He is 6’9” with a standing reach two inches higher than Blake Griffin’s and is nearly as much as a threat to dunk on your head as last season’s Rookie of the Year. Why again is there doubt as to whether or not Williams can play power forward?
Ironically, the only way Williams’ career resume might not include a couple of All-Star games is if he does believe he is a small forward. If that is the case, he could go the way of Al Harrington, a worst-case scenario for Williams.
Fans should sincerely hope claims before the draft that he is a small forward were simply posturing in case a team at the top did want him to play the three. The way the game is trending towards quicker centers and stretch-the-floor power forwards, Williams and his exceptional shooting percentages, could indeed be perfect the four in today’s NBA.
Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers
Irving was the top pick in a draft without a consensus No. 1 since Andrea Bargnani was selected with first overall in 2006. The pressure will be on Irving to quickly prove Cleveland made the right decision.
Irving is the third point guard selected first in four seasons, and he has big shoes to fill following Derrick Rose and John Wall. Not to mention, he represents all of Cleveland’s post-LeBron hopes. No pressure, Kyrie.
With even more to prove is the Cavs’ second pick, No. 4 overall Tristan Thompson. If I am Cleveland’s GM, there is no way I leave that draft without some combination of Kyrie Irving, Derrick Willliams and/or Enes Kanter.
Cleveland needed to hit it big with both picks to jumpstart the post-LeBron rebuilding process, and the aforementioned three players were head-and-shoulders above the other prospects. I just don’t see Thompson being an impact player in the NBA.
At best, I see another Tyrus Thomas. A gifted athlete and decent contributor who will drive coaches crazy wondering why he does not make the next step in his development. Maybe the Cavs’ scouts knew something I did not. There is only one way to find out.
Ricky Rubio, David Kahn and the Minnesota Timberwolves
There may not be another GM-Player combination whose destinies are more entwined than David Kahn and Ricky Rubio. Quite simply, if Rubio succeeds, Kahn keeps his job. If he fails, Kahn is canned.
However, Kahn should be worried that his supposed franchise player shot just 32 percent from the field in last year's World Basketball Championships to go with only five points and five assists. The Euro-game is very different from the U.S. so the low points and assists do not bother me, but the field goal percentage is a huge red flag.
Recent rumors point to Don Nelson as the new coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves. If it comes true, I like this pick. Nelson is synonymous with taking destitute franchises and making them exciting and competitive. He did it in Dallas and then again with the Golden State Warriors.
Furthermore, Minnesota’s five best players are by far Rubio, Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams and Kevin Love.
Athletic, undersized and really able to put the biscuit in the basket, there is no team in the NBA more suited for Nellieball, and no team that needs the all-time coaching wins leader more than the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Joining your favorite band of misfits? The Dunking Ninja! The returning cast of characters? The Savior (John Wall), The Castoff (Rashard Lewis), The Project (Javale McGee) and The Enigma (Andray Blatche).
All jokes aside, the Wizards could not have had a better draft. The worst-case scenario for Jan Vesely may be as a marginal contributor and highlight specialist, but his ceiling is much higher. You have to love a player called the European Blake Griffin. True to form, no Euro and few American players attack the rim with the tenacity of Vesely.
The selection of Vesely and the fact that the Wizards seemed dead set on taking the best big man available, may, mercifully, spell the end for Andray Blatche in Washington. He is big, talented and has solid stats but is not a player you can win with because you don’t know which Blatche is going to show up on a nightly basis. Plus, a minimal-effort player is a terrible example for a young team.
The Wizards need to trade Blatche now before it is obvious they are desperate to get rid of him. No player in the NBA holds trade value like the young big man. Remember, this is the same franchise that got Caron Butler for Kwame Brown.
In Wall, it looks like the Wizards have the most important element for a quick franchise turnaround. The Thunder did it With Durant, and the Bulls with Rose. Now, it is time to see how the rest of the pieces of puzzle come together.
The Los Angeles Clippers
There is no team in the NBA more poised for a breakout season than the Los Angeles Clippers. At point guard, they have a fringe All-Star in Mo Williams. Williams and shooting guard Eric Gordon, may be the smoothest-shooting backcourt in the NBA, which makes more room for Griffin to do work around (and above) the rim.
Behind Williams is a prospect that impressed as a rookie, in Eric Bledsoe. He could have a great year off the bench and looks like point guard of the future material.
You would be hard-pressed to find a player who made a bigger jump in his play than Eric Gordon. He went from 17 to 22 points per game, really building off of his Team USA experience. The Clips’ most important player outside of Griffin, I there is a good chance LA slips into the playoffs last season if he does not miss nearly 30 games with injury.
The only real hole in this lineup is at small forward, and the Clippers hold one of the NBA's best bargaining chips in Chris Kaman. LA has decided to go with DeAndre Jordan as their center and will look to move productive Kaman.
A trade to the 76ers for Andre Iguodala could be mutually beneficial for both teams, as Iggy would step right in at small forward, guard the Kobes and Durants out west and could be an invaluable veteran presence for the playoffs.
The Darlings of the Eastern Conference last season, the Bulls are a legitimate title contender.
They have the youngest MVP in history in Derrick Rose, they have a great young center in Joakim Noah and a do-everything perimeter player in Luol Deng.
Carlos Boozer was a huge disappointment in his first season with Chicago. They need him to be the 20/10 guy he is capable of if they want to take the East. Bulls’ fans have to hope his toe and foot ailments were legitimate injuries that hindered his explosiveness and side-to-side movement. Otherwise, he is an $80 million failed investment.
The biggest story for the Bulls has been their need for a shooting guard. Richard Hamilton may be the best fit. He is an NBA champion, can defend his position and can hit his shot offensively. He has gotten better from three-point land later in his career and is still a master of the mid-range jumper. He is a candidate to be released by the Pistons.
Other options out there are both of Denver’s restricted free agents, Wilson Chandler and Aaron Afflalo, the ongoing trade talks for Courtney Lee and the suspected release by Phoenix of Vince Carter. When and if things get resolved, the Bulls should be a major player in free agency and trade talks if they want to take it to the next level.
The Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant and Russell Westrbook
When you look at ability, youth and statistical production, Durant and Westbrook should be the NBA’s next Dynamic Duo. With the ability and potential of the rest of the roster, the Thunder should undoubtedly be battling the Heat or whoever comes out of the East for titles for the next decade.
Well, the same things were said in regards to Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury. But the latter could not be Stephon Marbury—the playmaker that used his incredible gifts to produce for the good of the team. He had to be Starbury, the undoubted alpha dog and star of his own team.
I saw flashes of Derrick Rose in Russell Westbrook last season. I also saw flashes of Starbury, wanting to the “The Man” so bad that it cost his team. He even got benched in the fourth quarter in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, the one game in which they were victorious against the soon-to-be champion Dallas mavericks.
The disturbing part of this trend is that it was most evident in the playoffs, the time of year when players most need to gel into a team. In Stephon Marbury’s third season, he averaged 21 points and nine assists on 44 percent shooting. In Westbrook’s third season, he averaged 22 and eight on 44 percent shooting.
The similarities are there for Westbrook, to players great and disappointing alike. He can silence all the critics with one season of selfless basketball and let the statistics come to themselves.
With the best scorer in the NBA on his side, Westbrook should absolutely have a double-digit assist season, while getting his own points by staying the flow of the offense. The next season is one in the crossroads for Westbrook, and the one that could define his career.
Kobe Bryant, Mike Brown and the Los Angeles Lakers
You really have to feel for Mike Brown on this one. He replaces arguably the greatest coach in any sport in Phil Jackson. As if that is not enough pressure, from here on out every championship-free season is a lost year for Kobe Bryant, as he continues to rack up mileage entering his 16th season in the league.
Kobe came out and publicly acknowledged he preferred the in-house promotion of assistant coach Brian Shaw. Kobe has played the majority of his professional career in the triangle offense, which Shaw would have continued.
The Mike Brown offense in Cleveland pretty much reached the complexity of “clear it out for LeBron.” Not only that, he ran a slow-it-down offense on a team that held the best athlete on the planet (I could never figure that one out) and is coming to a city whose fan base has fond memories of the Showtime Lakers.
No matter what Mike Brown brings to the table, this team will fail in the playoffs again if they do not address the point guard situation. This team does not need a Chris Paul, in spite of what Lakers’ fans may want.
The Laker is a player that can defend his position and be efficient offensively. Players like the Pacers’ T.J. Ford and the Raptors’ Jose Calderon fit the bill and could be had at a bargain via trade.
On the flipside to Brown’s offensive deficiencies, the man coaches a hell of a defense. Provided the Lakers fix the point guard situation, this team could be special defensively.
No other team boasts twin seven-footers in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Lamar Odom provides even more length and athleticism, Ron Artest is still a bully defensively and Kobe Bryant still gives you 100 percent on every possession.
I believe the old adage is “defense wins championships,” so maybe Lakers’ brass did know what they were doing by bringing in Brown.
Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic
Call this The Decision: Part II. The similarities are all there. The top pick and franchise savior. The surprising finals run as young pros. The noncommital responses (“I want to play the rest of my career in Cleveland/Orlando, but I am going to explore all my options in free agency”).
So, the Magic can do one of three things:
1) Take their mess of a roster and turn it into a player that can help Howard. The contract-season rosters are even starting to look shockingly similar. Call it talent vomit; skilled players just thrown on the court with no chemistry that do not complement each other’s skills. But each player is individually talented, so it looks like the front office is trying hard, and if you leave can say, "how can you say we didn’t try to build a contender, we brought in Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas!!!”
The good thing about talent vomit is just because the talent does not mesh with your players in your system, doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else’s. The Nets turned their talent vomit into Deron Williams. The Magic have some young, inexpensive players in J.J. Redick and Brandon Bass that teams are high on, as well as Jameer Nelson that could garner some trade interest.
2) Let it be known that Howard is on the market. Call this the Denver Nuggets' approach. If Orlando does not think they can keep Howard, they have to get something back for him. They cannot come up 0-for-2 on the best centers of two generations (remember that Shaq guy?) and let both walk for nothing.
They have to get something for Howard, and someone will allow you to pick nearly all the talent off their roster for the big man, like the Knicks did with ‘Melo.
3) Panic and lose your franchise player for nothing. Call this the Cleveland approach. Enough said.
There may not be a sport more geared for SportsCenter than the NBA.
The highlights are something that a fan of any sport can appreciate and enjoy.
Here are the NBA’s top plays from last season.
The Next Step for Derrick Rose
He is the league’s youngest MVP ever and waiting around for Round 2, or almost worse “defending” his crown in a shortened season, would be a travesty. Rose has improved noticeably in each of his three seasons, from Rookie of the Year to All-Star to MVP.
Rose, entered the league known to be an exceptional athlete. His combination of strength and quickness may be the best the NBA has ever seen from a point guard, but his jump shot was questionable.
All Rose has done since is work on that jumper. He has since improved 11 percentage points from his rookie season to his third, shooting around the NBA average of 33 percent last season. His scoring has soared from 17 points to 25 per night. Could you imagine how deadly Rose would be if he could bump it up to 40 percent or even 38?
Rose will reportedly be working on his post game this offseason. Part of his offseason workout team? Kevin Love. Yeah, the 20 points-20 rebounds streak Kevin Love. His other offseason buddy? Russell Westbrook, perhaps the lone point guard in the NBA that can match Rose in sheer athleticism.
It seems impossible for Rose not to improve from year-to-year going head-to-head with those two in the offseason.
The New York Knicks: A Full Season from Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony
A full season of Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony is must-see basketball at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks are the absolute wild card in the East. Capable of being upset and capable of pulling the upset, they are a team to watch out for.
The Knicks were competitive against the Celtics, though they got swept. However, Chauncey Billups played through the pain for one game in that series and did not have an impact. Amar'e Stoudemire was severely hobbled by a back injury. Even still, ‘Melo nearly stole the Knicks a two games against the defending Eastern Conference champs.
In Stoudemire, the Knicks have their best big man since Patrick Ewing. In ‘Melo, they have their best scorer since Bernard King. Chauncey "Mr. Big Shot" Billups can provide the veteran influence both need, as he has won a championship, been their twice and been to the conference finals seven straight years.
If the Knicks are going to make a serious run in the East, Billups will play a major part of it as he holds the seat warm for an eventual run at Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard to form a Big Three in New York.
Blake Griffin Year Two
Coming out of Oklahoma, everyone knew Blake Griffin would be a human highlight reel. What we didn’t was how big of an impact he would have in his rookie season, dominating the game so soon, regardless of the thunderous dunks.
To recap, as a 21-year-old, Griffin averaged 22.5 points, 12 rebounds and 3.8 assists, while shooting over 50 percent from the field. To put that in perspective, Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley averaged at least 22 and 12 in just three of his 16 NBA seasons.
On top of that, Griffin has so much room to improve, it is scary to think of his potential. No player in the NBA has his combination of footwork, leaping ability and body control. If you do not believe me, simply skip to No. 2 in the video.
The jump shot is the easiest aspect of his game to point out, but that should improve itself with the work Griffin puts into the offseason. With that aspect, his scoring will have a serious upswing. However, it is the rest of his game where he could really take off.
Griffin's 3.8 assists per game were second in the league for power forwards behind Boris Diaw, a utility man who handles the ball much more than he posts up. His assist totals will only grow as his court vision improves.
As Griffin’s assists will improve proportionately with his offensive awareness, his defensive numbers will improve with experience and awareness on that end of the court. Griffin’s totals in blocks and steals were relatively modest, but once he gets more comfortable with the rotations of an NBA defense, those numbers should skyrocket for a player wit his athletic ability.
The sky is the limit for Blake Griffin. We already had to wait for him for one year, don’t keep us waiting for another season.
Boston Celtics' Last Stand
In regards to their age, conventional wisdom would lead you to believe the Boston Celtics have one last run at being a legitimate championship contender. They cost themselves their best opportunity last season by trading away Kendrick Perkins. In one fell swoop they lost their identity, their chemistry and their ubuntu.
Still, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen may be the two best conditioned 30-somethings in the NBA. Most importantly, Garnett made great strides in his second season after knee surgery towards being the KG of old, not the old KG.
Paul Pierce has never been a glutton for conditioning, but he has taken his offseason workouts more seriously of late. The Big Three should have one more run left in them, and Rajon Rondo has plenty of years left in him.
Assuming Jeff Green can make strides in his first full season in Boston, he should be an impact player. He can play two through four, and should be able to give each of the Big Three a rest, leading to plenty of minutes. If there is a season, look for him to make a run at Sixth Man of the Year.
In theory, the Celtics have everything taken care of but center. If Jermaine O’Neal can stay healthy, Boston may be able to get away with a duo of O’Neal and a dependable veteran center. Nazr Mohammed could be the perfect fit. Not an impact player, in the budget, and a man who knows his role, Mohammed played a similar part in helping the San Antonio Spurs win a championship.
The Miami Heat
We have been pounded by all outlets of sports media on all things Heat, so I won’t harp on them for too long.
Last summer, the most conservative predictions for the Heat’s success stated the Heat would not win 2010-11, that Wade and LeBron would need a full season to gel. Now in year two, it is put up or shut up time in South Beach.
LeBron James has made it so his career can be seen as nothing but a failure without at least one ring. His entire legacy is one the line with his move to Miami.
If James would have stayed in Cleveland, and the worst-case scenario or retiring without a ring happened, he would be praised for his loyalty and excused as the Dan Marino of the NBA.
Wade has his. Bosh is not an all-time great with or without one. From here on out, every season is championship or bust for LeBron James and the Heat.
Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks
Then there is the antithesis to the Heat, the Dallas Mavericks and their hero who never seriously considered signing anywhere but Dallas, Dirk Nowitzki.
Before this season, Dirk was considered maybe one of the top 40 players in the league’s history. Now, he is widely viewed in the top 20. It isn’t simply that he finally got his long-awaited title, it is the manner in which he did it.
In the 21 playoff games Dirk failed to score 20 once (in the Mavs’ 38-point blowout win to eliminate the Lakers), scored at least 30 six times and over 40 twice. Far beyond the realm of the box score, Dirk hit countless momentum-altering shots, and sealed the deal on every dramatic Mavs win.
Everybody knew where Dallas was going for its most important baskets, but no one could stop the big German. Not LaMarcus Aldridge, not Pau Gasol, not Kevin Durant and not LeBron James.
If Dirk does it again, how much higher does jump on the consensus list of best players of all time. Top 15? Top 10? I know I can’t wait a full year to find out.